Well, I hadn’t heard much about this play, though it contains a lot of familiar Shakespeare-isms and a few quotes that will ring bells. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a performance of this play, or any enthusiasts, though I’ve heard the names Orlando and Rosalind before.
As You Like It is one of those plays of subplots interwoven with other subplots, of lovers and brothers at war, and disguises and deus ex-machina all around. It took me a while to really get what was going on because of all the characters, but the characters are different enough in temperament and outlook that they don’t get confused as easily.
The play begins with Orlando, the youngest son of a recently deceased Duke, being chastised by his older brother, Oliver, who is supposed to be taking care of his education but makes him live like a pauper and away from anything befitting his birth station. We learn that their father was friend of the recently deposed Duke Senior and as such Oliver’s position is precarious when it comes to Duke Frederick. There’s a wrestling match to be had and a court wrestler going against Orlando, which Oliver hopes will mean his brother’s thorough bashing or death.
But as this match is about to occur, we find Rosalind, the daughter of Duke Senior, and Celia, Duke Frederick’s daughter, speaking with him. As with these crazy, interwoven plays, Rosalind and Orlando fall in love fast. When Orlando’s performance makes the crowd think well of him, it makes Duke Frederick angry that his predecessor’s supporters and their kin are still so renowned, and it leads him to hastily banish Rosalind on pain of death. Orlando’s urged to flee as well, since Oliver’s threatened to kill him, and the servant, Adam, helps him get to the woods.
Duke Senior and some lords are in the woods living like Robin Hood, and they appreciate the life they have. Over a short period, Rosalind and Celia (disguised as the man Ganymede and shepherdess Aliena,) the court Jester Celia likes, Touchstone, Orlando, and others end up in the woods. From here, several characters interact with arguments, philosophy, gestures of love and wooing (a whole lot of that), and word from the outside that Oliver’s been sent to find Senior’s supporters and his wayward brother, and an army is being raise to finish off the usurped rebels.
There is more attempts at wooing and love-speak than in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet combined. Rosalind is an interesting character, of a sort, and I wanted to understand more about why she’d keep up the charade of dressing like a man instead of just revealing herself to her father and Orlando early on.
It’s chock-full of coincidence, and not my favorite play by a stretch, but the characters are likable enough. I think I’d consider it a good ensemble piece, moreso than some other plays I’ve read so far. But one weakness I think was nicely pointed out by the editors in the preface: that it doesn’t take long for the plot to take a break and we get to sit through some interesting poetics and song.
I think the confusing aspects make it so it’s a tricky play to produce, and because it’s not terribly easy to describe, I can imagine that has to do with a lack of push to put this play on the stage more often.
Still, there are some good moments. Some notable quotables to ring the noggin:
LE BEAU: Good sir, I do in friendship counsel you
To leave this place. Albeit you have deserved
High commendation, true applause, and love,
Yet such is now the Duke’s condition
That he misconsters all that you have done.
The Duke is humorous. What he is indeed.
More suits you to conceive than I to speak of.
ORLANDO: I thank you, sir. And pray you tell me this,
Which of the two was daughter of the Duke
That was here at the wrestling?
LE BEAU: Neither his daughter, if we judge by manners–
But yet indeed the shorter is his daughter.
The other is daughter to the banished Duke,
And here detained by her usurping uncle
To keep his daughter company, whose loves
Are dearer than the natural bond of sisters.
But I can tell you that of late this Duke
Hath ta’en displeasure ‘gainst his gentle niece,
Grounded upon no other argument
But that the people praise her for her virtues
And pity her for her good father’s sake.
And, on my life, his malice ‘gainst the lady
Will suddenly break forth. Sir, fare you well.
Hereafter, in a better world than this,
I shall desire more love and knowledge of you.
ORLANDO: I rest much bounden to you. Fare you well. [exit le Beau]
Thus must I from the smoke into the smother,
From tyrant Duke unto a tyrant brother.–
But heavenly Rosalind!
–Act 1, Scene 2
DUKE SENIOR: Thou seest we are not all alone unhappy.
This wide and universal theatre
Presents more woeful pageants than the scene
Wherein we play in.
JAQUES: All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. last scene of all,
that ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
–Act 2, Scene 7
JAQUES: Rosalind is your love’s name?
ORLANDO: Yes, just.
JAQUES: I do not like her name.
ORLANDO: There was no thought of pleasing you when she was christened.
–Act 3, Scene 2